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Pat Metheny Group: Imaginary Day Live

Guitarist Pat Metheny thumbed his nose at the recording industry in 1994 with the CD Zero Tolerance for Silence, but its 40 minutes of white-noise feedback proved a point. Metheny knew he was popular enough for a major label like Geffen not to release it, and he’s still one of the few jazz artists who can follow his muse, something he’s done with his self-titled group for 30 years.

The new Imaginary Day Live DVD features the Pat Metheny Group at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, Calif., 10 years ago, and 20 years removed from its debut (which came two years after Metheny’s heralded solo debut, Bright Size Life). Yet the DVD’s seven-piece band is far removed from its original format. Keyboardist Lyle Mays was in its original 1978 quartet; bassist Steve Rodby had been onboard since 1981’s Offramp, and drummer Paul Wertico since 1984’s First Circle. Percussionist Jeff Haynes and singing multi-instrumentalists Mark Ledford and Philip Hamilton were relative newcomers.

In this case size matters, but not in the best of ways. Metheny opens the show solo on his customized, 42-stringed Pikasso guitar on “Into the Dream,” which works as a novelty intro. Most of the remaining concert uses the vocalists, and Mays’ synthesizers, to update the worldly fusion blueprint set when singing Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos joined the quartet in the early 1980s. “Follow Me,” with Metheny on guitar synthesizer and Ledford and Hamilton chanting while playing acoustic guitars, sets the smooth early tone.

Metheny’s hollow-bodied guitar work creates highlights during “A Story Within the Story,” but few surprises follow. The only real unpredictable moments come during “The Roots of Coincidence,” when Mays dons an electric guitar to contribute to the intermittent cacophony. It’s a refreshing change from the wine and cheese format. Metheny seemed to realize that he’d extended the limits of this large ensemble shortly thereafter. He enlisted bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart and recorded Trio 99’00, one of the best releases of his career.

Originally Published